Migrant labour in Southern Africa is associated historically with rural poverty and a high incidence of women-headed households. Poverty alleviation approaches to social policy ask whether in this context rural women-headed households are poorer than those headed by men. Ample research from the region shows that the answer is not always, a finding once more confirmed here in an analysis of Botswana. This case suggests, however, that the wrong question is being asked. The incidence of both women-headed households and rural poverty has increased with the polarisation of agrarian production and the exclusionary restructuring of the migrant labour system. We need to ask not whom to target, but what should be done when capital no longer needs the labour that it pulled from rural households over so many generations.